That's cricket, that's life

Published : Sep 01, 2001 00:00 IST


AUGUST 12: The freshness of Galle is at once striking. Lovely beaches, clean air, a majestic fort, a popular yacht harbour and simple and friendly people make this city one of the popular tourist spots in Sri Lanka. Especially with the Germans and the Dutch who come here in numbers. In its heyday as a commercial centre, Galle was frequented by both Eastern and Western navigators and a battle was waged between the Portuguese and the Dutch for the control of this magnificent place in the southern province. It was the Dutch who captured Galle in 1960 and they further strengthened the fort that had already been built by the Portuguese. Inside its huge walls is a throbbing township. Indeed one can see a strong European influence in the architectural splendour of the churches, the streets and the houses. Close your eyes for a moment and it is almost like taking a walk back in time. Everything here has a distinct identity, including the clock tower with its black face and white hands. The buildings here date back to the 17th century, no wonder it's a World Heritage site of the UNESCO. Most things in this city revolves on tourism and when the cricket caravan moves here, it's a busy times for the hotels and the restaurants. So the first Test of the series between India and Sri Lanka is looked forward to by the locals. Meanwhile, the teams have a quiet day's practice at the quaint Galle ground. There is considerable speculation in the Indian camp regarding the batting order in the absence of Sachin Tendulkar and V. V. S. Laxman. Indications are that Mohammed Kaif would bat at No. 3 and Hemang Badani at No. 6, which means Dinesh Mongia will sit out.

August 13: It's the eve of the first Test and there is that 'something extra' in the air as both teams sweat it out at the nets. The Lankans come in the morning and go through the routine under the watchful eyes of coach Dav Whatmore and physio Alex Kontouri. There is some work for Kontouri when skipper Sanath Jayasuriya is struck on his right ear by a rising delivery from Test discard Ravindra Pushpakumara, helping out the team in the nets. Fortunately for the Lankans and Jayasuriya, the injury is not serious. Later on, the Lankan captain sounds optimistic about his team's chances while taking to the media. History is in Sri Lanka's favour. The home team has won three of the five Test matches in Galle, all by an innings. This time though there is an added factor. It's the nature of the wicket that sets everyone thinking. "I have never seen a wicket in Galle with so much grass on it. Even I am surprised," says Jayasuriya. The boss at the Galle ground is the former Lankan off-spinner with a dubious action, Jayananda Warnaweera. He makes it clear that the grass will not be chopped before the start of the game, something that is common in the sub-continent. The Indians have a session later in the day and predictably the pre-Test media conference centres on the pitch. Both skipper Sourav Ganguly and coach John Wright agree it would be an interesting surface. The Indians announce their 12 for the game and it's almost certain that paceman Harvinder Singh would be left out. One also catches up with Tendulkar's replacement Jacob Martin on the ground. He is a hard-working, quiet cricketer, who has fought hard for recognition. The stage is set for the first Test and we sign off for the day.

August 14: The Test begins in a fascinating setting. There are people sitting on the fort wall, that looms over the stadium, getting a bird's eye view of the proceedings. From the press box, we can see the blue waters of the Indian Ocean, adding lustre to the fort. Predictably, we soon have a brief spell of rain. "If there is a cricket match in Galle, rain should not be far behind," the locals have warned us before. The efficiency of the groudstaff, who are ready with those huge covers, even as they spot clouds moving in towards the venue, is striking. In fact, so enthusiastic are they that umpire Steve Bucknor has to stop them for running in too soon - it hadn't started raining yet!

August 15: The news in the Indian camp is not good. Dilhara Fernando and Sanath Jayasuriya have turned the game around in Sri Lanka's favour and to make matters worse Javagal Srinath has been struck a painful blow on his left glove by a mean delivery from Dilhara Fernando. Srinath doesn't come out to bat again, but bowls with a plaster over the injured area. The mood in the Lankan camp is different altogether. Their spirits are boosted too by some lovely Sinhalese numbers sung by a very active bunch of supporters beneath the press box. The Lankans clearly sense a victory. On matters other than cricket, the people in Galle eagerly await heavy rain, not the brief spells one witnesses during the match. The monsoon here has failed resulting in a power crisis all over Sri Lanka, Galle being no exception. There is a power cut every day in this city from 6.30 p.m. to 8.30 p.m. and it's pitch dark as we make our way back to the hotel. It's a strange feeling really that in a land where water resources are abundant we have these kinds of problems, but then, life at times can be hard to rationalise.

August 16: A drop in the number of tourists is another crisis facing Sri Lanka. The cause for the shortfall? The LTTE attack on the Colombo airport in July. Tourism happens to be the life-blood of the Lankan economy and this is indeed a trying period. Measures are being taken to woo back the foreigners, but this is easier said than done. We come across Salim, an auto driver, who reflects the anguish of the common man. He says his business has gone down over the last couple of months. "It is a nice country, it is a paradise for the tourists, but look what has happened to it." This is a question asked by many and the answers are not easy. In this scenario, cricket is a welcome distraction for many Lankans, yet most prefer to catch the action on television. On the field of play, following another dreadful batting display, the Indians are on the brink of a humiliating defeat. And back at the hotel we meet a friendly man at the lobby who is anxious to comfort us. "No Tendulkar no, no Kumble no," he says and we tell him that the better side is winning. Truth can be harsh, but there's no getting away from it.

Indian off-spinner Harbhajan Singh tries out the head phone of a TV cameraman.

An antique horse carriage is on display at the Galle Stadium.

August 17: The Indians don't quite lose by an innings, but they do only slightly better. They go down by 10 wickets. Even given the fact that some of the stars are missing, this is a shocking surrender. Amid the ruins of the Indian second innings, Rahul Dravid is the lone Indian who can walk with his head held high, producing a battling unbeaten 61. In contrast, the skipper is in the line of fire. The team has performed poorly and his personal form in Test cricket is going from bad to worse. The coming days may well determine Ganguly's future in the top job. There is some more disturbing information. The results of an x-ray taken in Galle are inconclusive about a break in the little finger of Srinath's left hand. Another x-ray in Colombo will determine Srinath's future in the tour.

August 18: We leave in the afternoon to Kandy, the capital of the Central Province, also the venue of the second Test. It is a six-hour drive from Galle, up the mountain. Along the way, the captivating natural beauty of Sri Lanka is very much on view - lush greenery all around, lovely rivers, eye-catching hills with little houses along the slopes. During the journey one comes to know about Srinath's broken finger. It's a depressing piece of news, for the Karnataka paceman did bowl spiritedly on the third day at Galle. Soon we reach Kandy and the difference in the temperature is immediately felt, with a cool breeze sweeping across the hills. During the evening we hear that Suresh Perera, the pace-bowling all-rounder who sparkled in the Coca-Cola triangular series, has been reported for chucking by umpire Steve Bucknor. Perera, a hero just days back, is now under a cloud. But then, that's cricket, that's life...

More stories from this issue

Sign in to unlock all user benefits
  • Get notified on top games and events
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign up / manage to our newsletters with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early bird access to discounts & offers to our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment